Satya Pal Malik and the Emperor’s new clothes

Curiously, Satya Pal Malik, the ruler of Meghalaya, launched a direct attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is strange that even after three days the government and the party are silent. No counter, no response.

Malik not only called Prime Minister Modi “very arrogant” but also called him arrogant and controversial over political differences. It is alleged that when Malik said that 500 farmers had died in protests against farming laws, the prime minister’s response was, “Did they die for me?” Malik claims that within five minutes of discussing the farmers’ issue, he ended up in a ‘fight with him’ and was asked to speak to Federal Home Minister Amit Shah. Apparently, when he consulted Shah, he said: “Satya Pal, some people have misled him (Iskee akal maar rakhi hai logon ne). Be comfortable and keep meeting us. You will understand things someday.”

Malik is expected to issue an official denial a day after his comments went viral, claiming that his comments (which are available on video) had been “misinterpreted” and that Shah had “not commented on the prime minister”. And while he admitted that the prime minister is now on the right track, Malik did not withdraw his earlier comments.

The strange thing about the whole incident is that Malik targeted the prime minister at an old meeting, and recounted the matter long after the farm laws were repealed, and angry farmers emerged from the year-long sit-ins. Although Malik has been openly supporting farmers for the past six months, he has never before launched a direct attack on the Prime Minister. In November, he mocked Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders for lacking in sentiment, “Even when an animal dies, Delhi Nitas express their condolences. But they were unable to pass a condolence request to 600 farmers in the Lok Sabha.” The name of Prime Minister Modi was not mentioned.

Why, then, did he choose to deal with the prime minister in a very hostile manner at this juncture and escape the blame?

Some political observers claim that the governor wants to be removed from office so that he can contest the legislative elections in Uttar Pradesh. But he could have done so by peacefully resigning his position as governor. He may have been supported by the BJP as a pro-farmer face, which would attract the vote of the Jat caste in Western UP. If this is indeed a consideration for Malik, it is clear, in his judgment, that the prospects for the BJP are not very bright in UP.

The government seems to be in trouble over what to do with Malik. As a constitutional authority, he can be impeached for being politicized. However, if the Federal Cabinet (on whose recommendation the President acts) recommended such a punitive measure, it could be said that he was punished for telling the truth. There are also fears that Jat’s WesternUp vote against the BJP could be reversed. On the other hand, failure to impeach Malik would make Prime Minister Modi look weak and undermine his power. He is known to have not forgiven an opponent (even those of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) either in his tenure as Chief Minister of Gujarat or as Chief Minister. If Malik is not subdued, Prime Minister Modi may become fair game to others in the BJP as well.

If Malik is not sacked, the unchallenged message across the country is that the prime minister is arrogant, self-centered and does not care about the deaths of Indian citizens, even if they died by the hundreds. However, in the more than 72 hours since Malik trained his guns on Prime Minister Modi, everyone has observed a radio silence over Malik’s remarks. Malik had previously said that he was appointed by “two or three influential people in Delhi” and that only they could remove him. But the cat seems to have got its tongue.

Does the failure to organize an effective defense of its leader indicate that what is going on within the government and the party has not been internalized by outsiders? Even Federal Home Minister Shah – who is considered the prime minister’s right-hand man – allegedly spoke of misleading the prime minister. With such a tangible loss of power, it is difficult to see how Prime Minister Modi can lead the BJP in the general election of 2024.

Prime Minister Modi has failed to combat rising unemployment. The economy is not doing well. Poverty and inequality have risen. The prime minister showed no statesmanship in aligning the opposition on important national issues. His much touted national security credentials lie to shreds as he is unable even to acknowledge the reality of Chinese aggression in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh. The distribution of free gifts before elections and the polarization between Hindus and Muslims is a very fragile political platform to support his candidacy for a third term. The absolute silence in the party and the government may be the first recognition of this.

(The writer is a journalist based in Delhi)

Disclaimer: The opinions above are those of the author. It does not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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